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UNWELCOME GODS / John Verlenden WHEN I HEARD that the mighty Finn Weller was dying of cancer in Alabama, I decided to forget the past fifteen years. Td go pay him a visit, one last time. I wouldn't even let him know I was coming. The decision wasn't too tough to make. I had been living on full disabUity for a long time outside of BoUvar, Tennessee. I didn't have a family or do much of anything, so I had plenty of money saved up. I could pay for a bus trip to go see an old war buddy— a guy who I figure kept me alive over there. Bolivar, incidentally, is where they have the state hospital for long-term insanity. The stone building is long and depressingly Gothic, just like everyone's idea of the classic asylum, and they have within a tall brick wall about five acres of trees and cut grass, like a park. I spent eight years of my life on that lawn. I remember one day I looked at all the trees—oak, beech, river birch, maple, hackberry, they all have these sort of dogtags like soldiers do—and realized they were just trees, nothing more. That is, I saw them as something apart, alive in their own right. Until that time, although I hadn't known it, I had viewed them, and every other living thing, as extensions of myself, of the sadness which spun out from my soul and covered everything in a blue web of mourning, of loss. I explained all this to my psychiatrist, a man I thoroughly trusted, who nodded and, I think, believed the essential truth of what Td discovered. He discharged me four years later. No grudges. What I've come to realize is that mental action, when the world is working right, must wait sometimes quite a while for physical action. That's the way it has to be. If you can't accept that, then you're still young and god bless you and keep you—and keep everybody for that fact, because the inability to wait causes most of the trouble in the world. I know. Neither Finnegan Weller nor myself could wait for anything and that caused us to kill some people in Vietnam who didn't need to be killed. And then, back in this country, we caused a fair amount of grief by the way we confused people, sometimes deliberately, just to confirm to ourselves that we weren't the only ones who could lose control. The Missouri Review · 293 I met Finn Weller in Vietnam where we were partners on a longrange reconnaissance patrol, or Lurps, as they called us. Unlike some guys, we hadn't wanted the duty. You go out in a small group, sometimes splitting up in the jungle, and it's rare that you don't faU into a mess. You get edgy, then you get addicted to the edginess. Then you long for any release you can get. Dumb fucks. That's how WeUer liked to refer to us. I heard it a few times and kind of proudly took on the title for myself, at which point WeUer began to open up to me like I had grown a new set of eyes and could see the world he was seeing. It gave us an edge to know we were dumb fucks. The same quaUty in Finn WeUer that led him to know, before I knew, that we were dumb fucks, also manifested itself in the jungle. One afternoon, on my first patrol, after picking through vines and trees all day, we came out onto a two-track road with the grass in the middle of it just getting up again. As we're processing this information, wondering just where we are, these two Vietnamese step out of the same jungle about forty yards away, dressed like farmers but carrying AK-47s. We all saw each other at the same moment and froze. You know, when you're new, you wonder to yourself for that half-second, is this really the true shit? Is something going to happen right this very moment...


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pp. 193-205
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